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Resources: Articles

AHCJ freelancer dishes on her $135K year in new ebook Date: 02/07/20

Jen Miller

By Carolyn Crist

AHCJ member and freelance journalist Jen Miller earned $135,000 from her writing in 2019, and after posting about it on social media and receiving a positive response, she decided to create a white paper to explain the details to others. It’s available for $10 online.

She let me take a look at the ebook so I could write about it here. The 30-pager has a solid 11 chapters, including a By-the-Numbers guide to her income and examples (with templates) of how she landed four clients — a mainstream consumer publication (ahem, the New York Times), two B2B publishers, and a health care organization. She includes a “lessons learned” section at the end of each case study, too, to help others replicate her work.

Since she’s an AHCJ member, the paper feels like a great fit for AHCJ members who also write about health for consumer publications, trade publications and health organizations. I appreciate the approachable tone, too — she’s open about the fact that her year wasn’t an “overnight success,” and in reality, was a major comeback after 2017, which was one of her worst years, both financially and personally.

One of my favorite parts is her own journey into freelance writing. It reminds me that so many of us have similar paths, dreams and goals. We’re here to report and write, yet we need to approach our work like a business. She talks about the bumps along the way, including her recovery after the recession, as well as her 2017 crisis point and year of cross-country travel before making 2019 her best year yet.

I also like the final section, “Additional Resources, Because I Don’t Know Everything,” because, really, who among us feels like they have the perfect business? We can all grow. Maybe this will help.

Let’s hear Miller’s thoughts on the paper as well. After I reviewed the resource, we exchanged a few emails and this Q&A:

What sparked you to create this white paper?

Miller: I fired my literary agent in mid-December. She’d sent the proposal for what I want to be my next book to 10 people the year before, and when I came back to her with a revised version this fall, she declined to send it out again, so I fired her. There was a lot of feeling involved in that decision, which I don't want to go into here. After talking to a few agents, I put the whole thing aside and went headlong into the holidays, planning to take three full weeks off. But then I got bored. I missed writing! After Christmas, I drafted the newsletter with how my year went, but I knew I had more to say, so I started picking at the idea of doing a whitepaper/ebook/how to. Three days later, had a 10,000 word draft. I found a designer and copyeditor, and here we are. 

How did you feel when you reviewed your year and looked at what made up $135K?

Miller: Since I track what I bill and what I bring in on a monthly basis, the numbers themselves weren't a surprise. However, seeing that no one client makes up more than 20% of my income was — in a good way. A few years ago, I lost two of my major clients in two weeks. They made up about a third of my income. I don’t want to be in that position again, especially if another recession comes along.

And I was really proud of myself! I had brushed up against six figures before, so in theory I knew it was possible. But that pride really comes from rescuing my business. Because of a really terrible time in my personal life, I ended up having a terrible work year in 2017, bringing in $55,000. There’s nothing wrong with that number, but when you made $95,000 two years before? Not great. The fact that my business rebounded, and then over performed, is wonderful.

What reactions did you receive when you first shared your 2019 success with others?

Miller: Mostly positive, I’m happy to say. I got a lot of follow up questions, which is another reason I wanted to flesh out how I did it in this piece. 

Soon after I published the short version of this in my newsletter, a thread went around twitter about how every freelancer is married to a person who makes a lot of money. I showed this to some people saying that to prove otherwise, but they didn't listen. I'm not surprised. I've successfully mentored a bunch of writers, but others turn their noses up at B2B work. That's their choice, but it's hard to feel bad for them when they say their business isn't working when they won't consider a world of work out there waiting for them.

How do you hope this guide will help other freelancers?

Miller: I want freelancers to see their business as what it is: a business, and treat it like one. I am far from the only freelancer to make a living like this — members of my very small mastermind freelance group make much more than me. I also want writers to block out the noise that's trying to convince them they can't make a living doing this, whether that's editors who offer them next to nothing for their work and tell them it's normal (it's not), or people who have tried freelancing and hated it and wrote a missive about how the whole industry is a sham (it's not).